MOAA and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) have been sharing for years the need for comprehensive toxic exposure reform – and this Congress seems to be listening and ready to act.
The Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees hosted back-to-back legislative hearings April 28 and May 5, respectively. Committee leaders in both chambers have made it clear they are ready to move quickly on a comprehensive bill.
"There are a number of bills out there,” committee chair Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said during the Senate hearing. “We need to put those bills together and we will, in a comprehensive package that I hope to mark up in this committee before Memorial Day."
However, the exact structure of an omnibus bill remains unclear.
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Many of the toxic exposure-focused bills reviewed by the committees align with the cornerstone principles MOAA supports: fixing the presumptive process, expanding health care eligibility, conceding exposure, and increase reporting. During the hearings, the MOAA-backed TEAM Act and Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act received significant coverage from lawmakers on the benefits these bills offer.
While Congress and VSOs seem in sync, VA’s position on the legislative appears less certain. VA declined to take a position on the toxic exposure bills during both hearings, instead announcing, at the request of Secretary Denis McDonough, the department is conducting an interagency review of the processes for handling military toxic exposure.
Despite initial confusion, the VA clarified in a VSO meeting the department’s internal review is expected to last 180 days, and the VA is not asking Congress to pause deliberation on toxic exposure legislation as the review takes place.
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While MOAA’s headquarters is working toxic exposure issues through the House and Senate committees and continuing to engage with the VA, our grassroots advocates are virtually visiting with lawmakers through the Advocacy in Action campaign during the month of May. This synchronized outreach comes at an important time with comprehensive bills expected to arrive on the House and Senate chamber floors. Clearing committee is important, but the momentum we are building must be maintained to consolidate these bills and get this legislation to the White House for signature.
We are witnessing real opportunity for lasting change, and now is the time for everyone to continue working to push comprehensive toxic exposure reform – our military and veteran communities have been waiting far too long.
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